Integrating Trial Advocacy and Mindfulness Theory & Practice

Posted on May 27, 2011

A webinar with David M. Zlotnick, Professor of Law, Roger Williams University School of Law
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sponsored by a fellowship from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, Professor Zlotnick created a course that explored the potential for mindfulness theory and practice to help aspiring lawyers make a career in trial work more humane and sustainable. In this webinar, he will provide some background on how trial advocacy is typically taught in American law schools and will then walk attendees through the various ways in which mindfulness theory and practice were integrated into the course. This webinar should be of interest to teachers of all kinds of experiential learning, those who teach in professional schools, and those whose courses involve student presentations, as some of the exercises were also designed to ameliorate public speaking anxiety.

Education, especially professional education, is also a socialization process. Budding trial lawyers often come to law school with an ideal trial lawyer in mind, often drawn from TV or the movies. Even if this model is a positive one, the donning of a pre-conceived persona often leads to a loss of authenticity, to the personal and professional detriment of the student. Thus, Professor Zlotnick’s course also focused on maintaining authenticity. To demonstrate this aspect of the course during the webinar, attendees will watch a video clip from a class meeting. In this session, a law student with an already well-developed “trial lawyer persona” was asked to shed some of that protective armor and discover how to be a truer version of herself in front of the mock jury. However, rather than revealing a resounding success, the clip shows how difficult this endeavor can be and how it requires experimentation and courage from both students and teachers.

Additional Q & A
Questions that were unable to be addressed during the webinar:

David, what do you recommend students do to get mindful quickly when things go awry at trial?
In advance, come up with a mantra for recognizing that we do not have control, then use it before trying to fix the situation. 

Did you use mindfulness practice when you were an AUSA, or did you come to that later?
No. I wish I had known about this then. 

I had a student from my Contemplative Lawyering class try, on his own, to incorporate some of the practices into his trial advocacy class, and he came away feeling as if they made him “too calm” or “too relaxed” to be as on top of his “persona” as he wanted to be.  (His professor suggested this might have been so). Any thoughts on how to help students who have this concern?
We did talk about this in class a few times. Mindfulness is not specifically about “relaxation,” it’s about being present. Since we usually sit quietly, the two become associated. That’s why I did exercises that interrupted the simulations focused on anger, etc., to deal with what was actually happening in the trial.

Do you have any Canadian colleagues who work in this area?
No, I do not have any Canadian contacts. 

Do the students continue their mindfulness practice after the course concludes?
Some have reported that they have done so.

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